COVID-19 in Burma: journalist sentenced to 2 years in prison

YANGON | A journalist of burma has been sentenced to 2 years in prison for having disseminated false information about the epidemic of coronavirus in the country, said on Friday his lawyer.

Zaw Ye Htet, editor-in-chief of a news website, had been arrested on 13 may, the day of the online release of an article announcing the false death by coronavirus of a person in Karen State (Is).

His trial was held on may 20, a week later, so justice in burma is known to let the suspects languish for months behind bars before the judge.

“He has been sentenced under section 505 (b) 2 years of prison,” his lawyer said Myint Thuzar Maw.

The section 505 (b) is a law in the formulation blurred which is often used against journalists or activists on the pretext of statements that can cause fear or anxiety of the population.

“We will appeal this unjust decision,” said by telephone to AFP the wife of the journalist, Phyu Phyu Win.

Burma has to date confirmed that 199 cases of coronavirus and six deaths, although the low number of people tested raises fears of experts that the real numbers are much higher.

The Karen State border with Thailand, has seen more than 16,000 migrant workers return to Burma in early April, when the pandemic caused mass unemployment in Thailand and before that the border is closed.

Up to now, this region of Burma has recorded only two cases of coronavirus, and no deaths.

The burmese government had warned that a prosecution would be incurred in the case of dissemination of inaccurate information on the pandemic, but this is the first known case.

It is also preparing a new text on the control of communicable diseases, which would make it even more easy the criminalization of journalists.

The deputy director for Asia of the NGO, Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson, has called this future law a “recipe for disaster”, and warned on access to information.

Under international law, restrictions to freedom of expression must be drawn up in the utmost clarity, he added.